Don’t just post something. DO something.

It’s been a controversial summer.  The presidential race has turned into a mudflinging contest filled with exaggerations, inaccurate facts, and disrespectful speech from both sides.  The Chick-fil-A controversy ignited a violent debate on gay rights.  And Todd Akin’s recent comments have provoked an outpouring of hate toward him and the party he stands for.

I’m disappointed in people who insist on dehumanizing the people on the other side of whatever debate they’re on.  I’m disappointed in responses that are angry rather than loving.  We Americans take our freedom of speech pretty seriously – we can say whatever we want, whenever we want, however we want, and be legally protected.  What we don’t often think about are the consequences.  We don’t think about who might be listening to us speak.  We don’t think about the implications of what we’re saying, or who we might be offending.  And I think it’s important to do that.  Rather than say “These are my views and you are wrong,” I think we should say “Can you tell me why you think the way you do?” and then listen, really listen, without judgment.  

The next time someone sends you an article or posts something on their Facebook, I challenge you not to respond for at least a day.  Read that article.  Really read it.  Think about it.  Maybe journal about your thoughts and reactions to yourself, or do some more research on the topic.  Ask yourself, “Is what I have to say truly necessary?  Am I condemning this other person or am I trying to understand them?  Am I communicating in a kind way or a cruel one?”  Then, if you really think you have something constructive to say, send your friend a private message engaging them in a discussion about the article.  There’s just no need for a public battle.

I think we need to stop just posting things on Facebook and other social media things.  We need to do something.  To use the most recent example, there have been a lot of angry articles and posts out there on Todd Akin’s comments on rape.  In my opinion, was what he said wrong? Absolutely.  Does hating him and blasting him publicly make me a better person, or the world a better place?  No.

What do I suggest we do, you ask?  I suggest that you take that anger, that disappointment, that whatever you’re feeling and channel it into something productive.  Find a way to advocate for your cause without negativity.  Don’t turn yourself or your social media pages into an avenue for hateful speech – no matter how justified or accurate you are.  Instead of blasting Mr. Akin, find an organization that treats rape survivors.  Make a donation (and hey, it’s probably tax-deductible!).  Depending on your time and talents, you could find a way to donate your services.  Perhaps lawyers could donate a couple hours each week as legal counsel for the victims.  Counselors and psychologists could donate time to work with rape victims. Doctors and nurses can volunteer time in a clinic serving them.  Etc, etc, etc.

And something else we can do is take steps to prevent rape in our community.  First of all, we can listen to the stories of women and men who have been raped.  We can listen with compassion and without judgement.  We can condemn the behavior (note I say condemn behavior, not people) of those individuals whom we know to have committed rape, and those who have been witnesses can step forward.  We can make it clear to all by our own behavior and by our actions and words to others that sexuality is not something that should ever be used as a weapon.  Ever.  Stop calling people sluts and whores.  Stop watching movies, television shows, and any media that objectifies women – or men.  Stop making rape jokes.  It’s not funny.  It’s just not.  I really don’t think anyone can say “I am a funnier and better person because I make jokes about rape.” 

Here are a few organizations I found that support rape victims both in the United States and internationally.  I’m going to make my donation today.  Will you?

Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN)

Women to Women (international)

Sister Somalia (the first rape crisis center in Mogadishu)

Rape Victims Advocates (located in Chicago)

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A Sweet (and healthy!) Summer Treat.

To replace ice cream, smoothies, and other deliciously sweet summer foods that threaten to add calories and white sugar to your diet, I hereby suggest the following: frozen bananas.  Put bananas (it works better if you peel them first) in paper bags or wax paper in your freezer.

Then, if you just want an ice cream or fro-yo type dessert, put the banana in the blender with any type of extra you want – dark chocolate, frozen berries, etc.

Sometimes to make a smoothie, I put the banana in with frozen berries, some orange juice, and a container of vanilla yogurt for some protein.  More orange juice = more like a drink; less orange juice = more like frozen yogurt.

It’s healthy, low fat, and delicious!

(Just make sure to buy organic/free trade bananas!)

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Technology, my friends, is a wonderful thing.  It enables us to work wonders.  I can see pictures taken by family on the other side of the country seconds after they’re taken.  I can talk to friends and family face-to-face on Skype regardless of where they are.  I can customize my playlist, my phone, everything.  I can personally tailor my own little universe.

However, in some ways this makes me less open.  Sitting on the subway with my iPod and book, I am less likely than ever to strike up a conversation with the person next to me.  Sweating in the gym next to people who live in my apartment building on the treadmill, we are all plugged into our own soundtracks or watching the television and don’t even know each other’s names, though we live in the same building.  I can customize my Facebook (and have) so I only see the profiles of people I like, to limit interactions with those who differ from me in opinion and beliefs.  Because of technology, if I want to sit at home on my own, I can listen to music, watch movies or television, game, or talk to other people on the internet, all without leaving my apartment.  I can build my own life without once needing to talk to another human being.

 Is technology hindering our ability to truly connect with people?  Are we taking that for granted?  We can pull our phones from our pockets, push a few buttons, and instantly, we have connection.  It used to be that messages took days, or even weeks to send.  My family lost power for four days recently in the aftermath of a thunderstorm.  There was no television, no phone, no internet.  We went outside one evening and sat in the shade talking with our neighbors.  And it was great.

As much as I appreciate how easy it is to keep in touch with friends and family via technology, I can’t help but wonder how tainted I am by it.  I don’t even know my next-door neighbor’s name, but I can talk to my family in California on Skype.  (to be fair, she did introduce herself when I moved in, and I’ve since forgotten it.)  Anyone who has been in a long distance relationship will tell you that seeing your significant other in person is infinitely preferable to Skype.  Yet, how many relationships have been dragged out indefinitely because of Skype?  How many people have hoped that someday, life will bring them and a significant other back in the same geographic place?  To be fair, Skype is amazing for military families who have no choice and other people in similar situations.  But how many of us have been in college or post-college relationships where we didn’t have the ability or desire to move to be with our significant other?  How many hours have we spent trying to make something work instead of living in the moment, where we are?

Has the quantity of our communication abilities reduced the quality?  Are we dulling our senses to true human connection by substituting television shows and Facebook conversations?  

And what does this do to the idea of solitude?  How many of us are capable of truly being alone, of spending time in a room by ourselves without television or music or internet?  Can we just spend time truly alone?  Or is technology infringing on our ability to reflect on our lives, to see ourselves truly?  I know so many people who come home from work or school and sit on the couch in front of the tv or the computer (or, as I do, sit on the couch with my laptop in front of the tv).  And then we complain that we have no time.  It’s true that a certain amount of unwinding and relaxation can be achieved through mindless entertainment (I’m no one to judge – I’ve watched just about every season of The Bachelorette) – but how much is too much?
Lots of questions.  No definite answers – and as with many things, it’s probably a case of individual taste.  But perhaps it bears some looking into.  When was the last time you really talked to the checker at the supermarket instead of chatting on your cell phone?  Smiled at the person waiting in the elevator with you?  Turned off your computer and went for a walk outside?  Turned off all technology and just sat with your own thoughts?
Yes, technology is a wonderful resource.  But let’s not allow it to dull an even more amazing resource – our own minds, hearts, and souls.
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In today’s world of late-night television and stand-up comics, it seems like anything is fair game when it comes to humor.  I pose the question to you: Have we gone too far?  Should there be limits on what we consider funny? 

Off-color and offensive jokes seem to be funny.  As someone once explained it to me, “The whole point is to say something so terrible that no one would ever take you seriously that you would say it…so it’s funny.”

I think that once something is commonly done, we sometimes forget the context.  Let’s take the ever-popular, “That’s what she said.”  This is a phrase that people shout out in glee just about anytime anything that could possibly be construed as a sexual innuendo is said. 

But let’s think about that.  “That’s what she said [in bed].”  Meaning, the speaker is referring to a woman as a prize.  The speaker is bragging about having this mysterious woman who says so much in their bed.  It’s degrading their sexual intimacy to a joke to be laughed about with friends.  There’s no respect for it.

I’m guilty of saying “That’s what she said” myself.  And when I think about it, it wasn’t because it was actually funny.  It was because I was with a crowd of people who I knew would think it was funny, and I didn’t want them to think I was uncool, or too serious, or too good for them.

There’s another form of humor which I would like to condemn outright, and that’s any kind of humor that has to do with a life-threatening illness.  You never know who is in earshot.  You never know all of the stories of the people you are trying to entertain.  I’ve been in situations where someone’s hand was shaking a little bit, because they were cold, and they said “Whoa, it’s like I have Parkinson’s disease.”  Someone else then said “Yeah, I totally have Alzheimer’s because I forget things all the time.” 

As someone who lost a parent to Parkinson’s, I have this instant, visceral reaction to jokes like this.  I have this feeling in the pit of my stomach, like I’ve just been punched and often I start crying uncontrollably.

Then, inevitably, someone will tell me that I need to lighten up.  I need a sense of humor.  Well, I’d like to turn that back on them.  These people who make jokes like this need to think before they speak and to incorporate compassion and respect for all humankind into their lives.

I ask you this, What’s better: being too serious, or making fun of disease, work conditions, and sexual assault without lifting a single finger to make a difference?  By teaching people to laugh at these things, you’re teaching them not to take them seriously, and therefore, not to help.


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Confessions of a Graduate Student

In high school, I remember being at school six hours a day, possibly more depending on extracurricular activities, coming home to practice violin for three hours, then doing homework until midnight or 1 am.  In college, I had fewer classes so I had less homework but more rehearsals.  Still, it wasn’t uncommon for me to be working, rehearsing, or studying until very late at night.  Somehow in the last few years, that work ethic has gone away.

This is my confession: I am a terrible graduate student.  I get eight hours of sleep at night, I eat three meals a day, I actually clean my apartment, and I’ve just joined yoga class, which means that for two hours twice a week I will walk to the studio, take a class, and walk home.  That’s four hours of potential studying gone, down the drain.  I have no willpower.  If my body says that it’s tired, I take a nap.  If my body says it hurts, I stop playing the violin for awhile.  I don’t drink coffee, because it makes me jittery and then I can’t sleep at night.  I have friends, and I actually talk to them.  I go to a school where people practice constantly, where they have the ability to wake up ridiculously early and stay up ridiculously late and function all day on coffee.  I cannot do this.  A professor told me that you either love music or you don’t.  This means, that if you do not love music at seven in the morning on five hours of sleep, then you don’t love it at all.  If you do not love music at midnight, you don’t love it.

So, I’m a terrible graduate student. I guess I don’t love music. Because the thing I care about the most is having a healthy, happy, well-balanced life.  And you know what? I don’t feel the tiniest bit guilty about it.

I mean, honestly, what does it say about any of us, if we sacrifice our own health and well-being for any career?  Does it really make us happier people? (If my classmates are any indication, the answer is no.) It certainly doesn’t make us healthier.  I don’t believe that it makes me a better human being to ignore everyone else on the planet, starting with myself and my body.

When all is said and done, I’ll have the same master’s degree at the end of these two years that everyone else has.  In music.  Which I do love, even if I’m not willing to kill myself for it.

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Product Spotlight: Bach Flower Remedies

One only has to turn on the television to know that drugs are prevalent in today’s society.  There are drugs to help children focus in school, to help you fall asleep at night, to help men  still have sex as they get older, to keep women from getting pregnant – to treat just about anything.  Modern medicine is indeed a marvel, but sometimes I wonder if we are a bit too quick to put ourselves on drugs.  The body is seen as unnatural and diseased.  Sometimes we would rather take a pill to fix a problem than to deal with it naturally.  Now, I understand that many people are actually in need of the prescription drugs they take.  I do.  But I also wonder about the side effects.  If you recall my earlier post about the contraception debate, I wrote that the thing that terrified me most about going on the birth control pill was the uncontrollable mood swings that were a potential side effect.  Personally, I don’t like to take anything that will alter who I am as a person.

However, my acupuncturist introduced me to Bach Flower Remedies.  These are essences from natural plants.  You add a few drops to your glass of water or water bottle and just sip it throughout the day.  There are no side effects.  While these do not drastically alter your mood, they support you in a natural way to help you deal with stress.  They also require you to think a little bit about what is causing your stress.  Each one does something a little different.  For example, Red Chestnut “helps when you find it difficult not to be anxious for other people, you are afraid that some unfortunate things may happen to your loved ones.”  Star of Bethlehem “helps when you experience serious news, loss of someone dear, the fright following an accident etc. The distress and unhappiness feels unbearable.”  I took both of these for the year after my father died.  It didn’t make the pain or sorrow or grief go away – time is still doing that – but it made it just a little easier to get through the day.

Again, these are not prescription drugs.  They are natural, and they have no side effects.  They’re also much cheaper than drugs are – about $13 for one bottle, and since the dosage is measured in drops, the bottle lasts for quite awhile.  These are sold in health food stores and are also available online.

Be well!

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An amazing, amazing post by a good friend of mine.

God In All Things

I’ve been rather amused lately by the First World Problems Internet meme. They are complaints only people of privileged circumstances experience. Urban Dictionary says they are “problems from living in a wealthy, industrialized nation that third worlders would probably roll their eyes at.” Examples:

  • “Someone was using my favorite treadmill at the gym this morning so I had to angle my head ten degrees to watch the TV.” 😥
  • “I’m so full from this all-you-can-eat buffet that I can’t even eat this fortune cookie.” 😥
  • “Every time I use my $400 smart phone as an actual phone the touchscreen gets all oily.” 😥
  • “I asked for a Coke and all they had was Pepsi.” 😥
  • “The shower gets cold after 30 minutes.” 😥

We find these funny because they’re things we can all relate to and because we realise how trivial they are as complaints. The United Nations World Food…

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Gas Prices Are Not A Political Issue

Please read this article (written a year ago, but still applicable) about gas prices.  Then stop complaining about them.  Obama isn’t keeping you from your American dream.  If your dream is to own a gigantic, gas-guzzling SUV, then maybe you need a new dream.  And, this isn’t just a Republicans attacking Democrats thing.  When George W. Bush was president, the Democrats attacked him when gas prices rose.  Clinton was attacked before that.  It’s a cheap political shot that unfortunately sometimes works because voters will be feeling the pinch at the pumps – and it’s a lot easier to find someone to blame (like the president) than to face the reality that someday, there will be no gas to pump at all.

In eighth grade geography class, we learned that oil is what is called a nonrenewable resource.  I am by no means a scientist, but this is how it works, from my admittedly non-expert viewpoint.  Oil is a resource that took millions and millions of years to form.  Oil has been around since before humans walked the earth.  Once we use up all of the oil  that exists on the earth, there will be no more.  Hence the term “nonrenewable.”  

Isn’t it time that we treated the energy crisis as a catalyst for change instead of making gas prices political?

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What Everyone Can Learn From Lent

“That’s that Catholic thing.”  “You’re Catholic, right?  What did you give up for Lent?”  “You know, you’ve got something on your forehead.”

For many people, Lent is that thing that Catholics (those weird people) do before Easter. It has something to do with the black smudge on their foreheads that appears somewhere in late February or early March, and is generally associated with not eating chocolate.  Ironic, as this is the time that Easter candy (chocolate, chocolate, peeps, and more chocolate) starts to appear on grocery store shelves.  It’s like they’re trying to torment us.

Here’s a short video from Busted Halo that explains how Lent works.  It’s only two minutes, and pretty informative.

You may be thinking, “This is great, but I’m not religious.” “This isn’t for me.” “I don’t like Catholics.”  “I started reading this blog because of the feminist posts!”  Bear with me for a few more paragraphs, please.

If you watched the video, or maybe you knew this already, the three big components of Lent are “prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.”  Even if you’re uncomfortable with Jesus, God, the Catholic Church, or all of the above…I bet you can still find something meaningful for your life from these things.

Prayer.  Prayer is a touchy subject these days.  We may not even want to talk to God, if we even acknowledge His existence.  Being an atheist or an agnostic is seen as enlightened.  But, how many of us take even a few minutes every day to shut off all our electronics, close out the outside world, and just be?  A great saying I’ve heard recently (but can’t remember where, so I can’t properly attribute it) is “You’re a human being, not a human doing.”  Take a few minutes just to sit, and maybe even give thanks for your life. Pause for a moment before you eat and be grateful for the people who harvested the plants, packaged the food, shipped the food, grew the food, raised the animals, killed the animals – and even for the animals who gave their lives (however unwillingly) so that you could eat this meal.  Add a few minutes of gratitude to your day, and see how that changes things.

Fasting.  This is the whole “giving up” thing.  As ironic as it may seem to some, fasting is about freedom.  We’ve all heard friends say “I can quit any time I want to.”  Fasting is about being able to say that and have it be completely true.  It’s about giving up the addictions in our lives, so that we’re not controlled by them.  How many of us really want to lose that extra ten pounds but can’t help ourselves when we see candy bars by the cash registers in the grocery store?  Or how many of us truly believe that we can’t function before our first cup of coffee in the morning? [Check back for a post later this week on caffeine addiction and energy.]  Can any of us get through a day without Facebook?  Fasting is about freeing ourselves from attachments so that we can be more of ourselves. Margaret Silfe writes in Inner Compass, “Choices become habits, and habits become character.”

Almsgiving. We assidously avoid people who ask us for money.  We turn away from homeless people on the streets, we ignore junk mail from charities asking for money, we ignore telemarketers.  Realistically, it’s not possible to give money to everyone who asks. For many of us, even if we gave our entire salary to charity, it would only be a small drop in the bucket.  The point of almsgiving is to give to those who need it.  $10 may mean that maybe we don’t buy soda at the store this week, or those extra snacks.  For someone in a developing country, that $10 might make a huge difference.  My father gave money to a number of charities – not very much, somewhere between $15 – $50 – but he gave to charities that he believed in.  So, regardless of your religious beliefs, I urge you to find a cause or an organization that you believe in, and make a donation, no matter how small.  It’s the act of giving that counts, not the amount.

If you need ideas, or suggestions, here are two of my favorites:

Heifer International.  I love Heifer International.  They don’t give food; they give livestock and teach families how to care for them.  For example, you can donate a flock of chicks.  This flock now provides eggs and meat for the family.  They can earn money by selling eggs, and once their flock expands they can sell more chickens to other people in their community.  It’s the whole “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish and he’ll never go hungry again” philosophy.

Central Asia Institute.  I recently read the book Stones Into Schools by Greg Mortenson, who also wrote Three Cups of Tea. This organization builds schools in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan, in some of the most forbidding and unreachable places on earth.  They work with communities so that the schools built are their schools, not some Western school.  And a condition of CAI’s building the school is that half of all students must be girls.

So, regardless of where you stand on religion or the Catholic Church, I hope you take these last few weeks of Lent for some reflection and for your interpretation of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  May you be calmer, freer, happier, and closer to who you want to be.

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Weddings and Marriage? Not exactly the same thing.

I caught myself looking at wedding pictures online again.  It’s a guilty pleasure of mine.  Something about the dreamy, gorgeous pictures of two people happy and in love…and this made me really think about the way our society views relationships, love, and marriage.

Think about it.  Think about all the commercials you see on TLC.  The point of these shows is finding the perfect wedding dress, or the perfect bridesmaid dress, or winning some competition so your wedding is better than someone else’s.  Think about your favorite television shows.  The destination of the relationship is always the wedding.  The best example I can think of this is The Office.  I watched the first three seasons avidly, spurred on less by Michael Scott’s off-color jokes than by Jim and Pam’s sweet and star-crossed romance.  The last episode I watched of the show was their wedding.  They got married, and I lost all interest in the show.  Think of every Disney movie you’ve ever seen (and I don’t count the sequels as real Disney movies).  Cinderella and Prince Charming, Sleeping Beauty and Prince Philip, Belle and the Beast, Jasmine and Aladdin – the list goes on and on.  The story ends with the wedding and that magical phrase “happily ever after.”  Think of the romantic comedies that pervade our culture.  They all end with either (a) finding the right person or (b) marrying that person after a suitable and unrealistic amount of trial, travesty, and drama.

Can you name a single movie that focuses on the romance that happens after the wedding?  At the time of this posting, I can’t, but I certainly welcome your suggestions.

I think that most of us probably dream of our wedding days and dream of finding the person we could have that experience with – but how many of us imagine doing our taxes the following year with that person?  Do we consider that every time we want to make a career change, or go back to school, we now have to consider this other person?  Or if our spouse wants to make a change, we may have to leave a job we love in order to support them, or put our own dreams on the back burner for them.  This is the person who will see you not all dressed up for dates, or in your wedding finery, but in your sweats, with uncombed hair.  You will wake up every day to their morning breath.  You will have to visit their parents – who will be the grandparents of your children – on a regular basis.  This is the person you will have a joint bank account with.  This is the person who will have the medical power of attorney and decide whether you live or die if you are in a coma.  One of you will plan the other’s funeral.

Speaking of funerals, recent deaths in my family helped me come to a realization that radically altered the way I view romantic relationships, and that is this: there is no happy ending.  The camera will not fade to black as you embrace and drive off into the sunset, the wedding is not the final chapter, and that first realization that this is the person is the beginning of something, not the end.

The reality of it all is that the end of life, for all of us, is death.  Not some happy, eternally youthful picture of two lovers – but, if we’re lucky, a very old person who has had amazing experiences, drawn closer to God, and goes peacefully and lovingly into the great beyond.

I stopped considering potential mates in terms of someone I could marry and started thinking of them as someone I wanted to spend my life with.  I realized that with my boyfriend at the time, I kept thinking things like, “If we can just get through the next few years, we can be married and everything will be okay.”  It finally dawned on me that marriage wouldn’t make everything okay.  It would make everything permanent, legally binding and incredibly hard to get out of.  The same problems would exist.  The pattern of fighting we were currently in, a deadlock of stubbornness, would likely continue throughout our entire lives.  Finally, I pictured our wedding.  I pictured taking his hands, and starting to say the wedding vows.  I imagined how I would feel, and the result surprised me, even though it was my imagination.  I felt tired.  I felt trapped.  I couldn’t even look my imaginary groom in the eyes as I said the vows.  I ended the relationship within days of this insight.

(Let me take a moment to say that my ex is a kind and wonderful man, for whom I have great respect and wish nothing but the best.)

I believe that the current statistic these days is that half of marriages end in divorce.  Many religious organizations are screaming about the protection of “traditional marriage.”  That’s not a topic I’m going to get into here, but I will say this: If one truly wishes to improve the institution of marriage, I would suggest that they target Vegas wedding chapels, online minister certifications, and the wedding industry.  Perhaps if the possibility of spur-of-the moment marriages were reduced, people would think more about their choices.  One wonderful thing about religious marriages is that many churches require a period of premarital counseling before the wedding, and the couple is able to sit down with a third party who helps them talk through issues in their relationship and to really prepare them for the marriage, not just the wedding.

I wonder what would happen if people – particularly women – stopped focusing on their dream dress, or the perfect photography, or the whole wedding itself and started thinking about the realities of the next fifty or so years of their lives.  (I hate to be hard on my own gender, particularly with all the current controversy, but I don’t think anyone would contest the fact that more women watch wedding shows than men.)  It’s not just about finding a person that you could make a commitment to, or who you can’t live without.  It’s about finding a person that you can live with through everything life throws at you.  And it has nothing to do with a dress.

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